Classic CARmentary: 1999 Isuzu Rodeo LS 4WD

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

The tragedy is that as the U.S. market turned to trucks, Isuzu still couldn’t make it work.  Too bad, because their current lineup looks appealing.  Unfortunately, the D-Max would be subject to the chicken tax, but the MU-X looks like it could work.  William – what’s the mood regarding Isuzu down under?  Are there any other country songs about foreign vehicles?

The following review was written on March 28, 1999.

This has to be significant: “Little Red Rodeo” by Collin Raye, as far as I know, is the only country-western song in which the star is a Japanese truck. Middle America has obviously taken to the rough, rugged little SUV.

The Rodeo was originally intended to be a budget alternative to Isuzu’s upmarket Trooper. Available only as a four door and based on the old P’UP compact truck, Americans preferred by a wide margin the Rodeo’s sleeker shape and broad stance to the Trooper’s upright and squarish ambiance. A redesign last year gave the Rodeo a more formal appearance without sacrificing much of its rugged character. Its four-wheel drive system is part-time only, activated by the push of a button for off-road or foul weather conditions only. High- and low-range may be selected via a console-mounted shifter.

The 205-horsepower, 3.2 liter V6 is the perfect match for the Rodeo, offering lively acceleration and a 4500-pound towing capacity. The optional four-speed automatic transmission shifted smoothly. A 2.2-liter four cylinder is standard only on the base S with two-wheel drive and a five-speed manual.

The interior on our LS is standard truck issue, with purpose but without pizzazz. The step-up to get inside is modest, but you feel like you’re sitting much higher. Rear passengers have an impressive amount of legroom for a mid-size SUV, although the small 33-cubic-foot cargo area (with the rear-seat up) is the obvious trade-off for all that legroom. The split tailgate is a nice feature, but the bottom half swings out, which can make loading dock maneuvers difficult.

Its truck-based platform becomes evident on the road, where there seems to be a constant bouncy sensation even on smooth roads. This didn’t bother me as it seemed to suit the Rodeo’s character. Its short overall size and small turning circle makes this one of the easier SUVs to drive.

The Rodeo’s popularity is evident in its price, with the top-of-the-line LSE actually costing several thousand dollars more than the Trooper. But if you like the look, the base S starts at just over $18,000. Lots of choices, which is just the way Americans like it.

For more information contact 1-800-726-2700


Type: Four-door Sport-Utility Vehicle
Engine: 205-horsepower, 3.2 liter V6
Transmission: Four-speed Automatic
EPA Mileage: 16 city/20 highway
Tested Price: $30,385